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FAQ: How Are Organ Donation and Body Donation Different?

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Heart in Hands

Q: What’s the difference between donating my organs and donating my body?

Anatomical donations fall broadly into two categories: organ donation or body donation. Organ donation is the one we hear about the most, with dramatic stories of lives saved when all other hope seemed lost. These headline-making tales inspire many to choose donation as part of their end-of-life plans.

Body donation, by contrast, is less glamorous but no less important. Donated bodies are required for the education of medical professionals and for the research that develops new drugs, procedures, treatments, and devices to potentially save or improve countless future lives.

Registering to be a Donor

Individuals can register as organ donors through their local Department of Motor Vehicles. This places them into a national system that manages all organ transplants in the US. When organs become available, they are matched with patients on the waiting list according to compatibility, location, and need. Registration in this system also allows for the donation of other tissue for transplant, including corneas, veins, tendons, heart valves, and skin. Organs must be used immediately (within 24 hours of donation), while other transplantable tissues can be stored for later use.

Body donation operates very differently. In order to become a body donor, an individual must choose and register with a specific program. At MedCure, we try to simplify this by matching donors with the researchers who use those donations in their important work. While organ transplant donors must meet a narrow set of criteria to qualify, most people are eligible to donate their bodies.

Differences in Donor Eligibility

Organ donors must meet certain conditions of age, health, disease state, and manner of death. They also must pass away in a hospital setting in order to ensure their donations remain viable for transplantation. By contrast, MedCure has no age limit for donors and can accept donations from people with a wide variety of medical conditions, including cancer. MedCure can also accept patients who pass away under hospice care and in their own homes.

Can I donate my organs and be a whole-body donor?

Organ donation always takes priority over body donation because of the ability of a donated organ to immediately save a life. It is possible to register for both organ and body donation. Eye and cornea donations never interfere with body donation, but some other donations may pose problems. This is decided on a case-by-case basis. If you wish to specify or prioritize whole-body donation, it will be necessary to remove the organ donor indication from your driver’s license by contacting your local DMV.

People who make anatomical donations do so out of a sense of generosity and the desire save lives or relieve suffering. Organ donation and body donation each serve an important role in improving the health and wellbeing of others. At MedCure, we encourage all types of donation, but we think it’s important for potential donors to understand how each works so that they can make the best possible end-of-life decision.